Kennedy Death Sets Off Scramble to Fill Vacancy

When I began covering races in Massachusetts many told me that Bay State politics is a blood sport.


When I began covering races in Massachusetts many told me that Bay State politics is a blood sport. With Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death, the state has it’s first Senate vacancy in 25 years, and that sport will play out in a very big way in the coming weeks.As Massachusetts pays tribute to its legendary senator, political insiders are already speculating about who will run in the special election for Kennedy's seat. Already there are multiple possible scenarios developing and top tier contenders being named in all of them.Right now everyone is focused on one question: Will there be a Kennedy in the race?Since last year, there has been rampant speculation that Kennedy was preparing his wife, Vicki, to take his Senate seat. The Boston Globe reports that she isn't interested in running, though, and sources in Massachusetts say there is very little talk of her getting in the race. The other possibility in this scenario would be former Rep. Joe Kennedy, the senator's nephew, who is sitting on a $1.76 million war chest.Adding another layer to this scenario is whether the state legislature will reverse itself and grant Gov. Deval Patrick (D) the authority to appoint an interim senator until a special election, which will be about five months from now. The very Democratic Massachusetts legislature stripped the governor of that power when Sen. John Kerry (D) ran for president because, if he had won, then-Gov. Mitt Romney would have likely appointed a Republican to his vacated seat.If the legislature does change the law, which it likely will, Patrick will look to appoint someone who won't later run in the special election. Former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) is a name being mentioned by several in Massachusetts as a good fit for this caretaker role because of his passion for healthcare. However, if Patrick appoints Vicki Kennedy under the assumption that she won't run in the special election, there will be speculation that she could change her mind and jump into the race. And, at that point, who will be in a position then to tell her not to?That scenario also puts Joe Kennedy in perhaps the most interesting position. He has to decide quickly if he wants to permanently fill the seat because he'll have to tell Patrick soon if he isn't interested in the interim appointment. So, if Joe isn't appointed, many will assume he is eyeing the special election.Dan Payne, a Massachusetts Democratic media consultant, also suggested Peter Meade as a possible appointee. Meade is a longtime friend of the Kennedy family and head of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. "As an interim choice, he'd be first rate," said Payne. If there isn't a Kennedy in the special election, the top tier is composed of three—maybe four—Democrats. The first is Attorney General Martha Coakley who has made her aspirations for higher office very well known. Most consider her the frontrunner in this scenario. She is well liked by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party; at one of its breakfasts at the Democratic National Convention last summer, the delegation gave Coakley probably its longest standing. More, Coakley would have the backing of Massachusetts women who are itching to elect a woman to statewide office. Remember: Hillary Clinton won the Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary by 15 points despite Patrick, Kerry and Kennedy all endorsing Barack Obama.After Coakley, Democratic Reps. Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch are the other top contenders. Both are very ambitious and both are undoubtedly considering the race. Capuano's got $1.2 million in his warchest, Lynch has nearly $1.4 million. Both are savvy campaigners, having won large Democratic primaries to get to Congress. The biggest difference between the two is where their bases lie in the Democratic Party. Capuano is very liberal and would likely target many of the same voters that Coakley would. Lynch is much more conservative—he opposes abortion rights, for example—and would target working class, blue collar Democrats. Lynch is savvy and if the Democratic primary becomes flooded with liberal candidates, he could ride the more conservative wing of the party to the nomination. Most of these contenders, by the way, approached veteran Massachusetts campaign hands earlier this year when there was the possibility that Kerry might be appointed to a cabinet position.Another name being tossed around is that of former Rep. Marty Meehan. Meehan left office in 2007 to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Always an impressive fundraiser, he still has $4.85 million in his campaign account.Other possible Democratic candidates include Rep. Edward Markey and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray.On the Republican side, state Sen. Scott Brown is most likely to get in the race. Brown is another pol that has made his aspirations for higher office—either as governor or in the House or Senate—well known. Brown has been successful electorally in Massachusetts, no small feat for a Republican considering it is one of the bluest states in the country. Brown won his reelection bid last year with 59 percent of the vote in a year where Bay State Democrats actually expanded their whopping majority in the state legislature.After Brown, possible GOP contenders include Jeff Beatty, who was creamed by Kerry in last year's Senate race; Chris Egan, a former ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development; Mike Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney who gained plenty of notoriety when he led the bust of an alleged bribery scheme involving a state senator last year; and former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey. Healey was Romney's second in command and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006 against Patrick.Jeremy P. Jacobs is a staff writer at Politics magazine. He covered the 2008 elections in Massachusetts for PolitickerMA.com. He can be reached at jjacobs@politicsmagazine.com. 


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